26 October 2010

The value of "dirty jobs"

Excerpts from an interview with Mike Rowe, who hosts the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs."
MIKE ROWE: Attitudes toward hard work have changed, and not for the better. Many people view dirty jobbers with a mix of pity and derision. Some ignore them altogether. However, one thing is unchanged: People with dirty jobs make civilized life possible for the rest of us. For that reason, I see a willingness to get dirty as a mark of character.

G: Why don’t more people respect dirty jobs?
MR: Once upon a time, we were proud to be dirty. Dirt looked like work, and work was revered. Now, we’ve redefined our notion of what a “good job” looks like. We’ve taken the “dirt” out of the formula, and in the process, marginalized a long list of important professions. Big mistake...

G: So you’re anti-college?

We’ve been gradually training our kids to equate dirt with vocational dissatisfaction. The real enemies of job satisfaction are drudgery and boredom, and those can be found just as readily in cubicles as they can in ditches...

There is nothing wrong with getting a college degree. The flaw in our character is our insistence on separating blue-collar jobs from white-collar jobs, and encouraging one form of education over another. Why do we value one above the other, when our future depends upon both? That’s our blind spot. 
My own dirtiest jobs were greasing cooker machines in a Green Giant canning plant, and cleaning bedpans (and buttocks) as an orderly.  After that I spent many years teaching in the technical institute affiliated with the University of Kentucky, and I can guarantee you that the students there went on to careers just as satisfying and probably just as well-paying as most of their counterparts in the four-year degree program.

Via Reddit, where there is a long discussion thread about the value of college and of manual labor.


  1. My own "dirtiest job" was 2 weeks emptying barrels of hazardous waste for a company I won't name. I came home reeking of used motor oil and other fluids every night, and had to take my clothes off in the garage before I came inside. They were pretty much unwashable, and I threw them all away when I quit after two weeks to take a much lower-paying job sacking groceries.
    I've had jobs where I worked harder (farm work in particular), but never one dirtier.

  2. My dirtiest job, in a life filled with dirty jobs, was as grave digger here in Seattle. It was sweaty, muddy, and occasionally very stinky work.

    I was never happier than when I was knee deep in dirt. Too bad it's so hard on the body...

  3. Where on earth would we be without the people who do the dirty jobs? I once had a plumber who had a law degree from UCLA. He practiced law for a year, then decided to revert to a trade he had learned working for his father's company. He said cleaning out sewers was "cleaner" than doing divorces.

  4. Hey Mike what is the most dirtiest job that you have gotten sick from?

  5. The problem with a life of manual labor is when you get to your 50s and your back is ruined or your eyesight starts to fail. Sure, some will rise to supervisor or some expert level, but there aren't enough of those jobs for people in that position. There's still 15-20 years to go before normal retirement age.

  6. My dirtiest job was working in a precious metals refinery. Fascinating—and dangerous—place to work.

    An acquaintance of mine spent time digging ditches to survive between jobs. It was mindless, grueling work in the summer heat. His coworkers were often crude and poorly educated, so he really didn't have much to say around them. But he listened to their banter, their views on life. He used the time to let his mind wander and his thoughts to consider better things. He went on to become an award-winning author as he put those ideas to paper.

    In another career, a salesman made a derisive remark about a janitor. I lit into him, pointing out that the janitor managed the environment in which the salesman worked so he could get his job done. To drive the point home, I told the maintenance office to stop cleaning his office. The salesman didn't last two weeks before he started whining about the condition of his office. Ultimately, the jerk was let go, and the CEO gave the janitorial staff a wage increase from the money we saved by firing the jerk.


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